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North Carolina Travel Guide

A Perfect 5-Day Mountain Road Trip in North Carolina

Day 1: Asheville

Buxton Hall

Arrive in Asheville and check into the Windsor Asheville, an all-suite boutique property, with kitchens, living rooms, and a private bedroom, located in the heart of downtown.

Breakfast Suggestions

Biscuit Head – If you're a fan of biscuits, this might just be your nirvana, with options from savory to sweet.
King Daddy’s Chicken and Waffles – Asheville’s go-to for southern cooking. The classic fried chicken and waffles aren’t for health fanatics, but don’t fret, they have grilled chicken and gluten-free waffles too.
The Corner Kitchen – Located in one of the historic Biltmore Village homes, Corner Kitchen is a favorite among locals and visitors. The corned beef hash and creamy grits are a signature breakfast item.

Lunch/Dinner Suggestions

Buxton Hall – James Beard Award–winning chefs Meherwan Irani and Elliott Moss have opened up their new place, which honors the mountain tradition of pit-cooked, whole-hog, slow-cooked BBQ, and it’s everything you will have hoped for.
Rhubarb – The James Beard Foundation named chef John Fleer one of the “Rising Stars of the 21st Century,” and his passion for Appalachian food traditions is reflected in his menus and his revival of the Sunday night supper, a family-style meal experience.

After-Dinner Cocktail Suggestions

Sovereign Remedies – Charlie Hodge, who creates beverage programs for restaurants across the country, has partnered with Asheville Mushroom Man Alan Muskat to create cocktails with foraged ingredients.
Top of the Monk – Top of the Monk has been named one of the best pre-Prohibition era craft cocktail bars in the country. Once you order your drink, make sure to get a key to receive a special bar bite in an old post office box!

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Activity Suggestions

Asheville Bee Charmer – The two locations of Asheville Bee Charmer showcase local and regional bee-themed skin-care products, housewares and gifts, sweet treats, and, of course, honey.
Battery Park Book Exchange – An eclectic vintage bookstore that serves champagne – you can’t really go wrong here.
• Ben’s Penny Mart – Grab an incredible deli sandwich or hot dog from local vendor Foothills Meats at the Ben’s Penny Mart bodega. While in the area, hit up some of the breweries, including Burial Brewing, Catawba Brewing, Green Man, Hi-Wire, Twin Leaf and the Funkatorium (Wicked Weed’s sour beer headquarters). Or try a bottle of Ben’s house-made sake back at the Penny Mart.
Biltmore – It’s hard pass up a trip to the Biltmore estate—the largest private home in America—but there’s more than just the house tour. There’s also a winery tour and tasting and two hotels on property.
Buchi Bar – With an array of options to drink such as local soda, kombucha (probiotic, fermented tea), herbal teas, and cocktails. It’s part healthy, but mostly fun to hang with the scene that dominates here.
French Broad Chocolate Lounge – With more than 150 varieties of chocolate to choose from, this hip lounge has comfy places to sit and relax while indulging.
Herbiary – New downtown shop with organic and pesticide-free herbs and teas, phthalate-free skin care, and great gift ideas.

Day 2: Waynesville

The Swag

Depart for Waynesville, a 40-minute drive, and when you arrive in Waynesville check into The Swag, perched 5,000 feet above the cares of the world. This bed-and-breakfast offers breathtaking views from the mountaintops complemented by luxurious accommodations, award-winning service and cuisine, and a private entrance to the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. (Note: The Swag is located in a dry county. While you cannot purchase alcoholic beverages on site, you can bring your own beverages of choice.)

Breakfast Suggestions

Joey’s Pancake House – Even people who never order pancakes anywhere else swear by the ones served here, so they are worth a visit.
• The Swag – Breakfast specialties include cider-simmered oatmeal, omelets made to order, breakfast breads, bacon, country sausage, and fresh juice.

Lunch Suggestions

Bourbon Barrel – A wonderful selection of all-natural steaks from local farms as well as microbrews and ales from local brewers.
Sweet Onion – Regional cuisine offering everything from southern fried chicken to pastas to fresh mountain trout.
Frankie’s Italian Trattoria – All sauces here are made fresh in house. Local favorites include eggplant sicilia, homemade lasagna, and hand-tossed signature pizzas.
Haywood Smokehouse – True mountain barbecue, smoked fresh every day—just don’t get there late because once it’s gone, it’s gone!
The Imperial – Built in the late 1800s, the building is a historic treasure that creates a unique dining experience that’s family- and pet-friendly with indoor and outdoor seating.

Dinner Suggestions

The Chef’s Table – Fresh, seasonal, local foods and produce paired with wines from around the world.
• The Swag – The dinner bell rings at 7:00; enjoy a four-course meal in the candlelit dining room and get to know the other lucky guests staying there.

Activity Suggestions

Cataloochee Ranch – This nearby guest ranch has trails for horseback riding or mountain hiking.
Boojum Brewing – The newest of Haywood County’s four craft microbreweries has its tasting room/restaurant next door to the Waynesville Visitor Center.
Wheels Through Time – Even if you don’t love motorcycles, this museum is pretty incredible. Home to the world’s premier collection of rare American vintage motorcycles, the museum more than 300 rarities and classics from Harley-Davidson, Indian, Excelsior, Crocker, Henderson, Flying Merkel and more.

Day 3: Waynesville

Cataloochee Valley

A big driving day, so pick up food and snacks to take along with you, or just stop along the route at anywhere that looks good. Don’t spend too much time worrying about food today, as you will be driving and taking in the majestic scenery instead.

Activity Suggestions

• Blue Ridge Parkway Loop – Enjoy the morning exploring “America’s Favorite Drive.” Haywood County’s 46 miles of the 469-mile parkway is the highest elevated section, so get your camera ready for some epic pics.
• Hop onto the Blue Ridge Parkway via U.S. 19, just outside Maggie Valley, which will start you at Mile Marker 455. As you head north toward Asheville (note that marker numbers decrease), make a point to stop at Waterrock Knob (MM 451.2) for 365-degree views and Richland Balsam (MM 431.4), the highest peak on the parkway at 6,411 feet. You can hop off the parkway at three places: Mile Marker 443.1: Balsam Gap—US 74-23 Crossover; Mile Marker 423.3: Beech Gap. NC 215 Crossover; Mile Marker 412.2: Wagon Road Gap. US 276 Crossover. (If you choose explore all 46 miles, which will take you several hours with stops, here are few other points of interest: MM 417: Looking Glass Rock; MM 418.8: Graveyard Fields Overlook; and MM 422.4: Devil’s Courthouse Parking Area.)
• Cataloochee Valley – One of the most remote areas of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the valley provides a look back in time to one of the area’s original pioneer settlements. The winding trails also lead to hikes as well as to views of the elk, which are most commonly seen at dusk, and have flourished, with more than 100 now living in and around the valley.

Day 4: Highlands

Old Edwards Inn

Depart for Highlands (about 90 minutes away) and check into the Old Edwards Inn & Spa, a European-style retreat. The main inn takes over four city blocks and includes the spa, their signature restaurant, shops, cottages, and even a heated outdoor mineral pool.

Lunch Suggestions

Bistro on Main – Salads, sandwiches, and entrees at the Main Street Inn's restaurant.
Wild Thyme Gourmet – American cuisine with an Asian influence.
Wine Garden – Al fresco dining with a menu of salads, sandwiches, and entrees, as well as an assortment of local craft beer.

Dinner Suggestions

Madison’s – The Old Edwards’s signature restaurant, spearheaded by chef Johannes Klapdohr, is the classiest place in town and with good reason. Let the staff guide you through the extensive menu.

Activity Suggestions

Highlands Botanical Garden and Nature Center – Part of the Highlands Biological Station research facility, the center features some of the area's natural wonders.
• Hike to Sunset Rock – Leave the car at the nature center and walk over to what leads to a natural amphitheater along the cliffside.
Old Edwards Spa – Its spa, one of the best in the region, has earned many accolades.
Satulah Mountain Brewing Co. – Beyond the local brew, Satulah boasts the largest local draft beer selection in town.
The Ugly Dog Pub – This classic tavern will make you feel right at home.
• Waterfall drive – See Bridal Veil Falls on US 64/28, which cascades 120 feet over the highway. Dry Falls, also on US 64/28 W, is a 75-foot waterfall that visitors can walk behind. Glen Falls, on NC 106 S, is a series of three large falls, dropping about 60 feet each.

Day 5: Asheville

Sierra Nevada

Before departing for Asheville, a 90-minute drive, explore more of the Highlands area, including neighboring Cashiers or Brevard—another charmer of a mountain town with one of the coolest toy stores, O.P. Taylor’s. Along the way, make a pit stop at the Sierra Nevada Brewery for lunch and a tasting. Return to Asheville and make your way back home, but not before taking one last fresh breath of that clean mountain air.

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